Trumpism, Not Donald Trump: Part 3

For the last two weeks, I diverged off of the beat and path of my usual meanderings of this cracked up American life in order to talk about something that had been on my mind for some time now.   I had been desiring to first of all introduce the idea primarily as to why Christians showed up to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, but also speak to the fact that it has more to do with “Trumpism” and not necessarily a vote for Donald Trump.  I introduced that thought process in the blog entitled https://marknealprince.com/2019/07/18/trumpism-not-donald-trump-part-i/as well as last week’s post https://marknealprince.com/2019/07/23/trumpism-not-donald-trump-part-2/.  I left off last week beginning to unpack why Christians actually voted for the avant-garde Commander and Chief, speaking along the lines of understanding the difference between two kingdoms; the world and the church.  I’m going to pick back up where I left off as we plundered the narrative of the scriptures as a whole from the Old Testament, and this week I hope to zero in on how that progressive understanding also further shaped the sentiment of the New Testament writers.  Hopefully, as we progress a little further, we can at least get a better understanding as to how people who claim to be about love, care for the poor and needy and the alien and the stranger, can also be for their own country’s kingdom and values simultaneously.

An Understanding of Two Kingdoms(continued)

As we enter into the New Testament world with the introduction of Jesus on the scene, the consensus of “kingdom” and what it means to the Jews is still on the minds of everyone.  Mostly, that idea of kingdom is very wrong in that the majority of the people, as well as the disciples at first, still think prematurely of a Kingdom of power that will come and rightfully restore the Jewish people  to a renewed Davidic kingdom, finally free from their oppressors and a force of both good and strength for the world.  Others such as Simeon and Anna (Luke 2), who hang around and pray in the temple all day, know this is indeed not the case.  Ironically, as we fast forward to Jesus’ ascension at the birth of the early church (Acts 1) we still find many of the Lord’s followers asking basically, “Is this the time that you will establish your kingdom on earth”?  Jesus reply is both telling and frustrating to his hearers, as Jesus has been speaking about the kingdom to them for days and yet they still don’t get it.  He essentially lets them know that this time of which they speak is only for the Father to know, but for now His kingdom will enable them to receive power to be “witnesses” of a kingdom that will instead be one of a reordering of the heart.  And also, one that empowers those who heed its message to be a transformative “salt and light” in how they live their lives, show love and compassion to others, and who also speak kingdom truths regardless of the costs associated with doing so.

     Slow to Learn

It would take both Peter and Paul a little later on, as the New Testament was being penned and circulated, to help the early church broaden its view on this subject.  However, it was Jesus that first homed in on the differences of the two kingdoms people thought they knew something about; many of which had forgotten their very costly Old Testament lessons.  The first case we’re given for our instruction is when Jesus is taunted by the Pharisees in an effort to catch him in a trap, where they ask him whether or not it is lawful to give taxes to Caesar or not (Luke 22:19-26). And here it is that we have the statement that has no doubt changed the world that we exist in, and that is equally educational in this tale of two kingdoms, where Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”.  The clear idea here that Jesus wants to get through people’s heads first of all, is that the kingdom of power they envision now is not the one He has come to set up.  His synopsis for the crowd is that governments have a job to do in that they render law, order and protection; and as a result of that representation, taxes are due to them for that service they provide.  Likewise, Jesus is stating that the Kingdom of God is a different matter altogether, but that is also has things (time, tithes and talents) that it also will require of us, but that are to not to be confused with what Caesar is about.  But stay with me here.  Let’s fast forward now after Jesus has been arrested and taken to Pilate, where we witness another teachable moment to the inquiring minds who truly want to know that is put before us regarding this two-kingdom motif.  Pilate in essence asks who Jesus is and whether or not he is indeed King of the Jews.  Jesus’s reply is that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), and that if it were, His servants (like all worldly kingdoms) would be fighting forcefully to overthrow it, and because they are in fact not fighting, this explains that the kingdom He proclaims is not a worldly kingdom. Case in point: The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world are two kingdoms with vastly different agendas and purposes.

     The Pillars of the Faith Guide Us Onward

From here, gleaning from the pen of the two most famous apostles who laid down what the church was to believe and practice in these matters was both Peter and Paul.  And ironically, both in fact took these same things to mean a clear distinction between the two kingdoms, both positively and negatively.  Negatively in the sense that we are to be separate in terms of our values from the world’s, and rather to instead of conforming ourselves to them, be transformed by reorienting our minds to thinking Godly (Rom. 12:1,2).  Positively, in the sense that we are compelled to pray for all people, including our rulers and those in authority. Timothy in fact tells us this, under the tutelage of his mentor Paul, by admonishing us that we are to do this so that we might have the possibility of having quiet and peaceable lives, even in the midst of an ungodly society (I Tim. 2:2). Peter in fact tells us in I Peter. 2:13-17 this very thing as well where he writes:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (ESV)

And for those who might be inclined to think he said this because they had such a well-mannered Emperor in office that everyone simply adored, we need to be reminded that Nero was his name-O!  And far from “liking” Christians as a people, history tells us that he did however appreciate their usefulness for lighting up his gardens at night, and the very pillars that gave us these instructions were both “given the ax” under his reign!  And yet Paul nonetheless correspondingly tell us this in Romans 13:1-7:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.Therefore, one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)

     A New Understanding

And it is here that we begin to see the formulation of the church’s two kingdom variances.   And through the teaching of the scriptures, the church begins to understand that though they are to speak boldly as to the truth they have been commissioned with, they are likewise; where it does not conflict with thwarting the preaching of the gospel, to be the best of citizens.  They do so by cooperating with the worldly kingdom in the good that it does and the order that it provides, and which is indeed sovereignly set up by God to enact justice for their specific kingdom of which they are residents.  Conversely, this does not mean that all kingdoms are good, and in fact many throughout history have wreaked havoc on their constituents in the most brutal of ways.  In this case, the early church always used its influence to speak in the right way to power, trying to change the things they saw as grave injustices, even at great cost to themselves.  Some such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, went so far as to join a band of Christian brothers to assassinate Adolph Hitler, however unsuccessfully.  And yet even Paul in Acts 22, uses his own rights as a citizen of Rome that he was indeed born into to stop the powers that be from treating him like and dog and beating him unjustly.  The term “wise as serpents, and gentle as doves” is pregnant with meaning in order to discern the right approach in our day to day lives here, however it will always be done so with both pluses and minuses along the way.

Selah

Stay tuned for Part 4

 

Settling Into The Old Man’s Skin

I have had a hand full of people that actually care about me, start to look at me with an edge of concern lately.  In fact, I can almost feel them whispering to themselves as I walk by, secretly saying to themselves, “Is he O.K.”?

Changes

 And I understand that a little bit I guess.  After all, they see this once enthusiastic and extroverted guy transform into an introverted hermit type of fellow, and watch from afar as old blue eyes has been walking lately with a little less spring in his step.  I also refuse to “Grecian formula” things up, and so this increasingly graying beard, and once somewhat chiseled frame has started to show signs of budding atrophy–despite my still quasi-consistent attempts to keep everything from falling down altogether on a fat boy treadmill nearby.

They equally scratch their head as they see a chap who was once a movie aficionado grow increasingly frustrated at the morally inept and purposeless selection, and similarly irritated at Christian movie production attempts to “VidAngel” the unadulterated reality out of life that we all know and experience from day to day.  As a result, turning the “boob tube” off as my old man used to call it, often seems the correct order of the day.

These same people no doubt likewise stop to reflect on someone who is now almost positive that nothing good happens after 10:00 PM at night, and who would just as soon pass the time reading a good book or in finding an old empty church to sit and pray in, than to do just about anything else.  This is also the same person mind you who loves a huge mug of Belgium beer, or a glass of exquisite bourbon as much as anyone with half a pulse; and who puts an occasional premium cigar in the same category as filet mignon and a baked potato–hopelessly drowned in limitless butter and sour cream. To add to this complexity, this ever-evolving patriarch can occasionally be seen with the likes of Chicken little, and one of whom has correspondingly grown pretty damn sure that the sky is actually falling all around us.

A Delightful Paradox

Oh, and don’t get me wrong, I like to be around people (in small doses now I’m afraid) but am equally content with solitude that causes me to habitually reflect and write about the sky I just mentioned.  I also grow increasingly content with a mixture of both a holy sadness and an equal zest for what God has left for me and my beautiful bride in the days that lie ahead–despite not knowing heads or tails of its sure footing anymore.  And for sure, that has taken some reluctant getting used to.

In fact, I’ll go so far to say that I believe that this contrast I just described should be somewhat normal for those of us who are still faithfully pulling out eye-teeth in their pursuit of a God who often plays hard to get, and those who also grow increasingly wary of the endless “grasping for straws” for some eternal bliss in a home down here; when all the while we innately know that we were created for a city whose builder and maker is God.  And the truth is, I’m now actually OK with this beautiful contradiction. But it’s taken quite a country mile to get here into my skin.

Death and Taxes

I can remember hearing Billy Graham say one time something that I found rather profound.  He was asked that if he had it to do all over again what he would do different.  He mentioned several things, but the one that stuck with me, that did not make a lick of sense until recently, was when he said, “I would have prepared more for growing old”.  And this insightful thought has stayed with me ever since.  You see because the fact is, that one day, just as certain as April 15th, the grim reaper will come to do his bidding, and I’m convinced more than ever that preparing for this certainty is singularly what has the distinctive power to catapult us into living a more purposeful life, rather than stoking the continual restlessness of having not yet achieved a life of perfect ease and comfort—a rose garden of which God never promised to those of us who voluntarily still walk on the narrow path. But I think perhaps we have forgotten.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have done things in life to try and “get ahead”.  I’ve worked hard, pursued advanced degrees, tried to be the best at a thing or two. And in that quest, I have experienced some of the euphoria of accomplishment, and the equal sharing of the spoils that come with it.  I still pursue this, simply because I want to be as great as I can be with the talents I’ve been given.  And somehow, someway, I believe there’s a best-selling book somewhere in my repertoire that still causes me to not go gentle into that good night.  All the while, I am now equally comfortable with being a normal guy who has also abysmally failed, yet who simply loves his wife and family, and who makes at least a feeble attempt to walk on this broken road. All the while, I am in constant hope for the daily bread and wine given from a Father who loves to give good gifts to his children–even when the battle rages on for the true fallen sons of God to at last be revealed.

Settle Down and Settle In

In conclusion, the reason that I write this, is not to give those concerned more reason to fret about my current metamorphosis; nor do I wish to become an old man before my allotted time.  But what I do want to do, is to find a way to settle into this old man’s skin in such a way that enables me to offer hope and guidance to those who increasingly engross themselves in a never-ending discontentment from a life that they feel has passed them by, and instead embrace a life of child-like faith and trust in the one who has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  To continually walk hand in hand with the one who longs to give us peace and rest even in the valley of the shadow of our inevitable death, yet most readily in the daily grind of peaks and valleys, highs and lows, and the ever constant “in-betweens” and “still not yets”.  For this is the path for all who dare walk on this road less traveled, and I simply pray that you don’t have to become an old man before finally getting it into your skin.

Selah

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Where’s Your Homeboy Now?

 In St. Peter the Rock’s 2nd epistle and chapter 3, the edgy disciple-prophet pens a verse in the middle of a lengthy narrative on the so-called “negligible” signs of Christ’s coming, from scoffers who prognosticate that the jig is up on the Christians once and for all, for the “so-called” Messiah has no clothes.  In a nutshell, it’s time to stop the babbling and go home. In essence they say that first of all, God doesn’t judge anyone (though ironically they don’t believe He exists), and secondly, that if we are still taking a can of whoopass through life down here and waiting around for a trumpet from the sky to come at any minute, we are indeed the gullible and thus deplorable Christians the “educated” masses think we are.

In fact, the verse says exactly what they are still saying some 2000 year later:

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4 ESV)

In other words, science now “knows” the better order of things, and that what goes in a test tube always then comes out of it in predictable fashion, and the “sign” theory is outdated, along with the good book and its people; and so it’s now time to shut the whole thing down.  Even though of course, both the might of the Romans and the “fine-tooth comb” of the religious establishment were unable to do so by simply producing a very dead body about 20 years earlier.

Yet Peter then first of all reminds them that God’s judgment is not only a surety at some point off in the distant future, but that it’s track record is also certain for those who want to take a trip down memory lane: perhaps starting with, I don’t know…the flood maybe?  He then builds a case by saying that just as that was evident when the time came, it will be undeniable again, and he uses that to build a case for the reason for the apparent stall out.

Is God Being Slack Concerning the Promise?

 In essence, Peter says that God is giving all of us, including the scoffers, time to perhaps take a double take and relook at this whole Christian thing with new eyes again.  And he suggests that by turning our glance away from merely the truth of the particulars, that instead; as Jordan Peterson has at least partially reminded us, we should spend more time in the realm of the universals.  His admonition in turn, though still conceding to us the tangible truth of real matter and all its boasts, is to equally compel us towards the spiritual truth that hangs in the balance in the grasp of the whole truth, and nothing but the truth–so help us God.  A realm of truth, even with its now “multi-millennia” of signs for inquiring minds wanting to know, that the culture writ large has long thrown out with the baby, and the bathwater.

Dooms Day Preppers

I can remember like it was yesterday back in the 70’s, when the runaway best seller The Late Great Planet Earth was released.  At that time, along with the overabundance of cheesy movies low budget filmmakers produced in its aftermath, churches (including mine) were sure we were in the cross hairs of the end of days, and that the eschaton of God would be imminent.  Fast forward to 2019, and like me, I’m sure most who call themselves by the name of Christ now feel that if Jesus isn’t now on His way in short order, we secretly wonder if Peter’s nemeses were on to something.  Perhaps He is not coming like we thought, or like the Thessalonians, maybe we fell asleep and somehow missed the whole shebang.

Jesus talked about some signs too in Matthew 24.  Things about false messiahs; wars and rumors of wars; nation against nation; famines; pestilences and earthquakes.  He would then add that this was only “the beginning of sorrows”.  He would go on further to say that all of us who called ourselves by His name would be hated to be sure, something about the “abomination of desolation” (with varying interpretations of what this was or would be), and the gospel of good news being taken to all the nations (of which Paul made boast of being completed even in his own time).

He also talked about the parable of “the fig tree” (which most believe referred to Israel becoming a nation in 1948).  Many would also talk about “this generation not passing away” until it was fulfilled to mean, as many dooms-day prophets heralded, that sometime around 1988 was to be the final curtain call.  He then went on to give many other signs–yet assured us that not even He knew the day or the hour.  Instead he uttered that this particular occurrence was strictly in His Father’s timetable, but assured us that alertness, attention to holiness and preparedness for the hour should be the state of the church at all times.  And so still we wait, while the volume of the scoffers has now reached colossal proportions in every market square and computer screen.

Is the Enemy Us?

And yet I wonder.  Smack dab in the middle of Jesus’ signs for us to pay attention to, he mentions something that I feel bears ponderance now more than ever.  He says that during these times, “that because lawlessness increased, the love of many will grow cold”.  And the apostle Paul seemed to be echoing Jesus sentiment again, when in 2 Thessalonians, he speaks about “the great falling away”, which almost every Tom, Dick and Harry soothsayer agrees refers to the state of the church at that time as becoming corrupt, irrelevant and chameleon-like in perfectly blending in with the scoffers themselves.  And of course, that is where I begin to have a sort of out of body experience that sure as Hell feels like the real thing from where I’m sitting.

For instance, does anyone still called by the name of Christ doubt that lawlessness has increased calamitously in our now “global village”, and even in our own lives–thus causing our love for Christ to, I don’t know…grow cold maybe?  And is that not also what John the Revelator is alluding to when he reminds the church at Ephesus that they had “lost their first love” before he lays out the apocalyptic time clock?

And in hobbling along this narrow and sometimes lonely path, searching every so anxiously for the Jesus missing in America and in my own life, perhaps the signs we should be looking for have been building a barricade from our eyes in our own back yard for some time now.  And all the while, the myriad of money changers we gave the new keys to have now reentered our various temples, as we shuffle in week after week for the show that must now begin.  But perhaps, just maybe; the signs are indeed everywhere now, except we have become the church-going, therapeutic, moralistic and deist scoffers, who no longer live like they are leaving at all.

 

Selah

 

 

Sin as Syndrome

I can remember now for damn near close to 50 years of my life, stumbling across the phrase from the disciple whom Jesus loved in chapter 1 of his gospel, “Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world!”.  And I guess I knew what that meant to a degree, even in my earlier years of being enamored with this incredible and inexhaustible book.  And so, in a very real sense, I have always “gotten it” you might say. At least enough to admit I am also “a chief of sinners”, and to recognize why iniquity is actually a watershed issue in my own being.  But let’s just say that the older I get, and the more I people-watch, including myself; it’s a really, really, really big deal man.  But hear me out.

I recall it like it was yesterday several years back now, hearing an old preacher describing an absolutely horrific event that occurred to some small children in a flat in New York City, that would make your skin crawl right off your body and into the nearest holy water for full immersion.  After mentioning this story, that was hard to even fathom with a straight face, he then said, “If you knew what happened each night in even one city block of your cozy little life, you wouldn’t even be able to sleep at night”.  I paused, and then wept bitterly like a kid knowing his Dad’s ass whooping was imminent. And the harshness of that truth hit me like a freight train ran out of station, and I have never forgotten it to this day.  But I think we as a people, or at least those who still call themselves Christian, may actually have.

Sin…You Talking to Me?

In fact, if you’ll indulge me a bit, I think sin used to be language that even the most nominal of Christians talked about in our culture.  Oh sure, some of it was “much ado about nothing” as they went on about their day, but it did make for enlightening conversation that was somewhat culturally accepted as a universal truth one could agree on.  Yet I think it is safe to say that the concept of sin has actually fallen on a bit of hard times though don’t you think?  Sin as syndrome I like to call it.  We are now born, not with sin per say, but rather a syndrome that God himself interjected into our DNA that we can’t actually help, and is something that requires a pill, or perhaps a simple waiving of a magic wand as to our exception to what once was a rule for all of us fallen creatures.  Not anymore. It seems we all get a hall pass for whatever feels intrinsic to us, whatever our dispensation is, or whatever tickles our particular fancy. After all, God would want us to be happy at the expense of some minor detail that killed His son.  And that narrative is now no longer blowing in the wind, but in fact “is” the wind itself.  And so, the road has gotten even more narrow I presume, and few there be that will ever find it.

A Case in Point

I’ve always been intrigued by the story of the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8.  Some question whether it was in the original manuscripts and rather inserted later, while others speculate as to who it was, what Jesus was writing in the sand, etc;–but one thing is for sure: it speaks profoundly to Jesus’ response to SIN.  The part we love of course is that there were no jive-talkin Pharisee’s left to throw any stones, while we postulate it primarily had to do with the fact that they had each had their own taste of the woman in question.  We are then contrarily endeared to Jesus instead, who we envision rolls away the stones of accusation into our own drama—and that he does it “seventy times seven” or so. But perhaps, just perhaps; what we miss, is that His admonition to her is to “Go, and sin no more”.

Now we are not given any details to sew this story up tightly afterwards either, as to whether the woman ipso facto was then ushered into a life of fidelity with no further mishaps. We’re not given this info.  I’d like to think if the woman is anything like me, soon afterwards, when she had one too many drinks, she sought relief again in even some bad sex for goodness sakes.  Or perhaps, she was a woman caught up in a tailspin of survival of the fittest, and the prospects of a few mouths to feed led her back to the hope that maybe “this is the one”.  We just don’t know.  But what we mustn’t miss is the fact that on the narrow path, though God understands our susceptibilities, and our predicament, His desire is never to leave us where he found us on the road of no more sticks and stones–but to change us from the inside out into a microcosm of Himself! And the most difficult thing for the gag reflex of American Christianity to now take in, is that it has much more to do with Godliness than our endless pursuit of life, liberty and ever elusive happiness. And this central truth of Christianity, is currently now on a slow morphine drip, awaiting the final pulling of the plug!

Did we Pull the Trigger?

I was reading John chapter 19 the other day as Jesus is in the crosshairs of his fate.  And as I read about the soldiers, Pilate, the chief priests, and even the people that watched and benefited from his miracles, yet who later called for Barabbas instead, I was reminded that we’re all caught up in the story really.  We all have our own stones, our own nails, and our own repulsion to someone, anyone, who would dare ask us to be anything but “me”.  And as I contemplate the drops of blood and the cup of sin he imbibed, it all of a sudden means the world to me.  And again I suppose; if we really imagined our own part in handing down Jesus’ verdict, what goes on any given day in our day to day relationships, or what goes on just on our own city block–we might just begin to see why this is actually a big, hairy, frickin deal.

Love Hurts

John the Baptist told us this too don’t you know.  In fact, he was the one who prepared the way of the Lord you might remember.  He was the one called to get people’s hearts ready for real faith, instead of merely following for the perks, but rather for the purpose of becoming image bearers, created in the oftentimes crucible of our own suffering of sorts.  But who the Hell wants that?  Nonetheless, it was he who once said to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”.  And keeping with repentance, no matter how you slice it, even still being expounded from this archaic book, has fallen on the hardest of times in the cultural milieu; and yet it beckons us to constantly be about it.  Summoning us to look into the mirror of our lives asking God for holy fashion tips, even when our tainted view of our narcissistic reflection motions us to forge the road of holy enlightenment alone.  Meanwhile, the God we were told is to be the one true love of our lives, simply has to be demoted to second fiddle; when after all, He seems to be eternally playing hard to get.

But maybe, just maybe, that’s what all worthwhile lovers do.

 

Selah

There’s Something Wrong With the Ground: Part II

Well, I don’t guess I need to spend too much time on why it’s been over two gosh darn months since I last wrote to you.  After all, you know me by now, and well, this ADHD has really got to stop!  I was however excited about my last post, particularly because I was feeling that I was getting ready to live through it in a whole new way—again, and therefore thought the “experience” would be ripe with fresh and smelly insight for your spiritual aromatic pallet.  And let me just say that I really do hate it when I’m right. OK, well…maybe not. Anyway, in this case, I could really do without the rightness of it all. But let’s get on with it shall we.

In my last blog, I wrote https://marknealprince.com/2019/02/28/theres-something-wrong-with-the-ground-part-i/, introducing the soil problems we all experience in living the Christian life.  I set up a good deal of introduction there as to what was happening in the story, but ended it with the tip of the iceberg in the obvious observation, that the devil often times “is” the guilty culprit of seeking to, often successfully, steal what little meager faith we have.  I gave some description here, so I encourage you to go back and read so it will be fresh in your thoughts.  But the fact is, part of what’s wrong in our soil is our worldview, and the overabundance of lies written into the culture that Mephistopheles himself has been transcribing into the ethos of mankind for eons, ever since man put his first foot on the dust that he came from.  And so then, the “Thief and Chief” quite naturally, and ever so effortlessly, “steals” the morsel of faith that seeks to penetrate the layers of man’s plausibility structures intrinsic within us, that simply will not allow mere natural men (I Cor. 2:14)to believe for any longer than a really bad weekend.  But the plot again thickens.

More Funky Town

Jesus then explains something else funky going on with the ground of our potential, yet seldom ever achieved fruitful faith.  In vs. 20 and 21 of Matthew 13, Jesus gives us another issue to chew our cud with. He says essentially that this ground is called “rocky” for a reason quite frankly.  And it is because though it finally breaks through the impenetrable wall of the devil’s lies with an outburst of initial joy even, because it has not been able to yet sink down some initial rootedness resulting in an actual resoluteness of personal faith, once tribulation as a result of this new-found conviction comes (as certain as death and taxes), it lasts for about as long as jail-house religion, and thus fizzles out like a cheap box of sparklers. And it isn’t pretty.

In fact, I’ve had this conversation many times with would be inquisitors into the Christian faith. And I often implore, and even beg them to please consider the fact that life is hard enough as it is, and thus it is equally not prejudice when it comes to the pain and suffering it can and many times does dish out.  So then, I very clearly state that if they want a nice cozy religion that suits all their needs, Christianity is not, let me repeat: “not” the religion for them.  For in fact, if one adds “true” and unwavering faith in Christ to their already existing topsy-turvy life, they will by nature of the faith’s essence, invoke even more “tribulation” and “persecution” into the mix.  And sadly so, it can come, and often will come from their own families, from the ever so faithful wounds of friends, and from a world system that only loves its own (John 15:19) and punishes the bastards it finds with excommunication–thus the often lonely narrow path comes into full focus. And for most, this is a hard pill that they cannot possibly swallow.

But then sadly, there is where actually most of us live. Even those of us unfortunately, who have added just enough inoculated conversion in our lives so as to not get the real thing. Of course mixed in with some tithes and offerings, some good ole faithful church attendance, and an occasional good deed with our retirement package smiling back at us as we await our celestial shore.  But make no mistake about it friend, this soil is the soil with all the damn thorns in it, all of them, and the one that keeps us all from the forty, sixty and a hundred-fold fruity pebbles from being descriptive of our lives.

The Perfect Storm

And Jesus finally explains it, so we need to listen.  He tells us that his particular ground is the one ripe with “the deceitfulness of riches” and “the cares of this world”.  Mark chapter 4’s rendition adds “and the desire for other things”.  Luke 8 then piggybacks on this with “cares, riches and pleasures of life”.

So, there you have it.

The trifecta of a daily and always dependable ass-kicking on the Christian path.  We’ll just call it the cares of life (and there are many), the pursuit of money and happiness if you will (deceitfulness of riches), and; if we have done everything right (so we think), will then equal to “the pleasures of life” that will hopefully continue until we break on through to the other side (Doors).

Cares

Both Jesus and Paul talked about one of our nonstop daily cares which no doubt creates so many others. That wonderful care known as marriage or familial relationships.  Yet Jesus and Paul were both in cahoots in saying that though marriage is wonderful and God’s design and all this and that, however, the care of a spouse can and often is a competing care against fruitfulness in our lives, especially if both are living on the same stinking thorny path.  For in the end, both will choke each other to death!  So to care about one’s wife or husband, or children, or extended family, is to add a heaping amount of “care(s)” that can and often does war against the spiritual life of fruitfulness, especially if they are all also simultaneously choking on the thorns, and equally asking, “Thank you sir, can I have another” day after day after day. It’s a never-ending street ripe with everything but…well “fruit” I’m afraid.

Stuff

Those particular cares of course necessitate the other ones, which is the need for “stuff” (George Carlin-google itJ), which then breeds into the American Dream of what can be the “deceitfulness of riches”, because after all, more is never enough.  And the funny thing about it is, in a free-market capitalistic society, some version of “rich” is what we all need now so it seems, not necessarily to keep up with the Jones anymore, but just to bloody survive!  And so even you and I who are immersed daily in the scriptures (assuming there are still some of us out there), daily crying out in prayer of either a purposeful or more desperado kind, are equally those now, teeter-tottering back and forth from the promise of fruitfulness or not, because if we miss a beat, the world system will eat us up and spit us out while no one is even fricking watching or giving a good damn. Oh yeah, we get the deceitfulness of riches part, but what we can’t get away from, what we can’t escape even by swearing by the hair of our chinny, chin-chin, is the fact that we’re caught up in a web that has us all one move shy of being served up as Spidey lunch on any given day!  That’s our address.  This is where you and I live.

The Rub

Oh yes.  Constant cares to the left and to the right. Constant quest and pursuit of riches, or at least enough to get us by (whatever the Hell that means).  The constant desire for pleasures to numb us from waking up to the fact that the Lord we proclaim is ours said, and is still saying to us, and especially now to me; that until we give all our cares (I Pet. 5:7), and relinquish our worries (Mt. 6:25-33) to Him, and instead seek first and foremost a kingdom not of this world mind you, then the ground will never yield the fruit that it was designed for before the foundation of the world. The Christian life will die on the vine. The sound “Well done”, will never be heard.  And all for which we have labored both in our inoculated Christian life and in all our cotton-picking cares, in the end won’t another minute buy (Kansas). Nothing left but Dust in the wind, or better yet: unripe fruit that will never see the light of day, nor brighten others.

A little Irony

And I’m wondering just a little bit here.  Perhaps maybe, this gargantuan step between the thorns and the fruity pebbles has to live and grow in the betwixt and between, and the vast uncertainty of life, and come out on the other side both saying and eventually meaning, sometimes again and again,what Habakkuk learned who said (bled):

 

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

GOD, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places. (Hab. 3:17-19)

 

 

Selah

When the Light In You is Actually Darkness

Deja Vu

I stumbled across a portion of scripture for about the umpteen millionth time this morning.  It’s one that indeed struck a chord within me that has been perhaps longing to be strummed for some time to in order to awaken my own calcified heart to its melodic revelation.  And as I polished off that last slug of morning Joe before entering into morning prayers, it occurred to me that in Christendom, this illumining disclosure I stumbled upon, that was once so blatantly obvious to the whole damn lot of us, has become shall we say somewhat “passé” and rather obsolete to us now.  A fact at which should cause even the most confident extraverts to blush as one caught with their pants down just before the lights go down.

The scripture I am referring to is found in the gospel of Luke in chapter 11, where in verses 34 & 35, from the mouth of Jesus himself, He states the following:

“Your eye is the lamp of your body.  When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness”.

 And as I mentioned earlier, though I have read this scripture time and time again, it occurred to me that its incontrovertibleness somehow now seems to have escaped both the church’s and our individual brotherhood and sisterhood in the community of Christ’s own mortification of it all.  And, if it were not yet clear what Jesus was trying to say to us, the Apostle Paul, like many other of the authors of the New Testament, no doubt explains this verse rather unmistakably when he writes in Ephesians 5:8-12:

“for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true) and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret”.

 So here we have it.  Both Jesus, and now reiterated and explained in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find that whatever light or “worldview” if you will that we have, that guides our day to day goings on, is in fact either light or darkness.  And it seems crystal clear again as Paul reminds us, since we as brothers and sisters are now “light in the Lord”, that we are in fact to walk (yes that’s correct) as “children of light”, and that this is descriptive and representative of all that is “good and right and true”.  He of course adds to that narrative that discerning whether we have light or darkness requires a judgement of sorts on our part, that then sifts through the numerous or oppositional false lights that come at us each day through the flickering pixels of our lives, in order to now find “what is pleasing to the Lord”.   Paul takes it even a step further for us and says that we are not to take part in those “unfruitful works of darkness” and instead should expose them, which causes most of us “non-offense” postured Christianity-light Christian hearts’ to skip a beat, or perhaps even the whole bloody drum solo!

Standard Bearers?

Nevertheless, I say all of these things, not because I too am not at fault at coming short at observing the standard put before us.  However, more importantly, I am also increasingly aware that it is the standard itself that is now in question and has now fallen on the hardest of times.

And of course, we all know acutely well I’m afraid that the light in the world that represents itself as luminary to us is off kilter and off its rocker so to speak.  And that likewise, it is also the ever-prevalent light of the god of this world, and to those who “buy in” to its modus operandi; forever drawn like moths to a flame to its attractive gaze.  Or at least, we should know this.

And perhaps that is my ever so observable point.  And it is that when those of us who are called “the light of the world”, or those who are to be “light in the Lord” are no longer even able to discern what the “unfruitful works of darkness” are that we are participators of, you can bet “dollars to doughnuts” that we will come up a country-mile short in having the ability to light anything for people to truly see with.  And that as a result, the light we now are purported to have, like the world around us, will now also be in fact truly darkness!

Don’t Fear the Reaper?

And of course it then occurred to me, as I hope is also at least obvious to those of us with a smidgeon left of spiritual acumen in our hearts and minds as to the current balderdash being pumped into us both with and without our invitation on any given second, that this is indeed a watershed issue!  And it is so both in the visible church, who by their own self-promotional appointment to the role of knowing better have incessantly and yet now hypocritically remind us, and to the rest of the church invisible who are unreluctantly following suit. Those of us who have almost flagrantly conceded to the god of this worlds’ false light bearers, and have now like Pavlov’s fricking dog, salivated their way into convincing us to mix both lights together like the candy man can, hoping somehow to make it all taste good for us to drink with our Kool-Aid cups, as if the Grim Reaper is not now at our own front door!

And so now, the thought occurred to me in that epiphanic moment of which I spoke, that if the light that is now in the church and in us has also become darkness, and if the road to the “fruits of darkness” as opposed to being “light in the Lord” has become mere indiscernible shades of inevitable gray, then perhaps a day of reckoning is indeed upon us. And maybe, just maybe; it won’t be far too long in the prophetic, yet not much paid attention to distance, that we’ll look up, and as all is now verifiably trampled on the floor before us, we will actually then finally wish that we’d all been ready!

Selah

 

 

 

 

The Narrow Path Thing

Blog ADHD

I guess you could say I’ve gotten a little off focus lately, with you know… with um, that narrow path thing I’m always going on about.   It’s of course always on my wayward heart and mind as it relates to the part of it I see drastically missing now in the church, and equally in this here ragamuffin. But I can’t let it go.  It won’t let me I’m afraid.  Old age and senility is a bitch I guess.

You see after at least 50 years of reading the scriptures devotionally, academically and in mostly utter desperation to grovel to the crumbs from God’s table in order to get through the given day, its commissioning and its constant beckoning to be on that exact path, will not escape me.  I want, I need, I have to be on it—but, there aren’t many travel companions as a Nazirite once opined.  And so I’m walking, I’m hobbling along.   But here I go again, thinking I can, thinking I can, and resting in the fact that somehow He can, through me…conceivably.

A Prophet’s Graduation

So yes, it haunts me pretty regularly, it is true.  And I often wake up from my grandiose narrow path dreams mesmerized at the fact that Christianity went and stole Jesus right from under our noses as we were sipping our lattes, planning our next weekend excursion, and tipping our way into the final icing on our “cake life” of the treasures that yet await us in heaven—or so we’ve been told.

But I’m not so sure.

And though I’ve been accused of sometimes being a “wanna be” prophet of woe, I get the feeling that perhaps I’ve now graduated from the class and am the real McCoy now. Not that anyone is listening, but I’m beginning to feel the “Thus Saith the Lord” off in the distance of my ears ringing, and so I’m speaking it out for those of us who have ears to hear and eyes to see.  But maybe first we need to lose the air pods, cut the noise off, turn the lights down or simply turn around.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign

It’s funny how things go in life. There are little signs, little guideposts along the way that you know are leading you to something, even when no one else may be paying bloody attention.  And then God subtly reminds us in that still small voice thing that there are yet remnants of witty bitty prophets of worldly insignificance who have not yet bowed the knee to Baal or Molech, and who confirm to us that the answers that have been blowing in our collective wind have the potential to raise up a valley of dry, dead as Hell bones if we will let it.  That’s happened to me a lot lately.

It started with a few epiphanies that I wrote in my prayer journal which I then posted on social media, as those rare instances where you feel God pointed his finger right through the sky and into your heart and soul and “stuck” around for a month of Sundays.  Things such as:

We absolutely must drop the notion that as a Christian, everything we say and do will be liked by others regardless of our earnest desire to be winsome. In fact, if we are now to truly follow Jesus, we will more than likely earn the title of court jester”.

Or this:

“Either you work for the glory that is now, or for the one Jesus says is yet to come. But very rarely does He entrust both to us”.

And then last but not least:

“Either we believe all of what Jesus said was true or we don’t. But it’s high time we absolutely believe that the behavior should reflect our conclusion on the matter”. 

 And if that wasn’t enough, Ann Voskamp walked in my reading life and upset what was left of my own very self-protected, yet very broken applecart.  The one, two punch.  Kaboom. She came, she conquered, I’m now done.

So, What Is the Narrow Path Anyway?

And so, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a pastor friend of mine several months back.  The poor guy actually read some of my blogs a time or two and so he asked me, “Mark, so what is the narrow path anyway dude”? And I thought to myself, “Why’d he have to go there”? Foul ball.  No, but really, I’m glad he did.  Because perhaps I need to redefine it for myself again before I can sheepishly begin to articulate it to others.  Drumroll please!

You see the truth is the narrow path is designed to tell us something right out the gate.  It says to us ever so, I don’t know, OBVIOUSLY, that by the road being narrow, and few finding it, that the way is…well, hard I think.   Cruciform.  Yep, I’m sure of it.  In fact, G.K. Chesterton once said about this exact fly in the ointment that “The Christian life has not been tried and found wanting but has been found difficult and thus left untried”.  I couldn’t have said it better myself G.K. You see the narrow path first and foremost has to mean that if the Christian life costs your nothing to walk it, speak it and live it out in Sodom and Gomorrah (in case you thought you were in Kansas), then more than likely you took a detour of some kind, and that perhaps if you see all your friends there with you too, you may need something akin to a minority report.

I also think the narrow path has to mean something that sounds an awful lot like LOVE.  No, not the easy peezy, Japaneezy kind for goodness sakes, that simply loves those who are “loveable”. Even gosh darn pagans do that. But something more akin to enemy love I heard a teacher once say, or that at the very least seeks to love and bless even when others will occasionally, or perhaps frequently curse and join ranks with gossip columnists eat up with days of our lives of which they mostly know nothing about, or who secretly hope for our final undoing.  Yea, I think it’s that.  And It’s not a cheesy love either that simply “grins and bears it”, but one that often is “butt hurt” and yet chooses to love anyway, and to bless anyway, and even gives a tunic and goes a mile or two further, and even turns a sore cheek now and again. Something about “love bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things” rings a bell.  Yea, I think this is to walk a narrow path–sometimes alone I’m afraid.  In fact, oftentimes of late it seems.

Oh, and I think it might have something to do with FORGIVENESS too perhaps.  Yea, so Jesus kind of talked a lot about that I believe. We are to forgive.  Not necessarily to forget, but maybe to throw it in a “sea of forgetfulness” or something like that maybe.  Like God did, and always, always does.  Maybe its “seventy times seven” or maybe “to infinity and beyond” as Buzz always said.  It means sometimes saying, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”, or maybe even “Forgive them, since I too have often been unforgiving and unloving too”.  You know, tit for tat.  Reciprocal FORGIVENESS maybe even.  Love and forgiveness have to be the dynamic duo I’d say.  Yea, that’ll work.

Oh, and perhaps it means to GIVE maybe.  Oh not the 10% thing necessarily, though perhaps not to its exclusion somewhere, or to something, or to even someone. In fact, to walk with the narrow path jive turkeys, it means giving a lot; maybe everything, even when knowing it is pearls thrown to some swine of sorts.  Maybe even most times.  No return on investment, no pragmatism, no accountability, and no blind man coming back to thank us. Just giving out of our plenty and out of our nothing maybe, for some joy set before us perhaps.  Very Macedonian-like methinks.  Very Pauline if you will.  And perhaps Petrine, and Johanine, and all very disciplee and stuff.  Or better yet, very Jesusesque don’t you think?

It means giving a good damn about all the plight you see both inside and outside your four walls without scurrying about so quickly so as to not think hard or deep enough about what it is you just saw, or if there is anything I or my collective brethren should do about it.

It means churches not so hung up on services but perhaps more SERVICE to others, both in and outside the sheep gate.  In word and deed.  Good news and Good works alright.  And maybe, just maybe even with one of them there church thingies on every city block in the good ole bible belt, maybe we become a real talk of the town and own the plight of the homeless, the mentally ill, the widow, the single Mom and the fatherless. And perhaps while we’re at it, instead of churches becoming more like mausoleums, gymnasiums, Tony Robbins workshops, and the only spot you get your weekly “ex cathedra”, they become more like homes of refuge to those types.   You know, the ones Jesus said are actually like looking directly at Himself I believe, and are the difference between becoming a right-handed sheep or a left-handed goat-for-nothing.

Hard Times At Narrow Path High

Yea, I think it kind of means all those things, and of course a whole lot more.  But, that’s a good damn start, I think.  That’ll get us going I believe. Yes, the difficult road of love, forgiveness and where we actually store up what we have and what we haven’t somewhere else I heard a man born in Bethlehem once say.  And whether or not we hang around sinners, beggars and whores, or stay comfy inside church doors. Hey, that rhymed!

But you can bet that it’s a lonely, sparse road though this narrow path thing.  I’m telling ya.  And evidently, there are few there be that find it I heard a Galilean once say. But perhaps you’re either in or your out, you sink or you swim, you separate boys from men, put on your big girl panties, or something like that.  But what I do know is, that the narrow path doesn’t get a word in edgewise around here much anymore, and I think that’s why the church increasingly looks pretty much like everybody else on that other road over yonder–safe and secure inside a cocoon of orthodoxy, while the rest of us are busy not even applying the itching ear salve their serving up on any given Sunday.

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christ(X)mas

Cynicism Alert

Well if it isn’t that glorious time of year again!  And no, there is absolutely no hint of sarcasm in my pen!   Seriously. I kid you not.  You know, it’s that wonderful time when parents glee with snap-happy anticipation about spending a shit ton of money they actually don’t have, and then counting down the moments until everyone tears open their presents.  And afterwards, the “fan damily” then scurry about to some in-laws or outlaws to once again get through the heart attack-ridden gluttony without having to call 911; a couple of more mandatory presents in between, and just for good measure; we’ll throw in a little bit of all too familiar ungraciousness, relational trepidation, and a good dose of leftover familial guilt just to close out this blessed day! Ah, there’s nothing quite like it. In fact, one can hardly wait till next year to do it all again.

But wait, did I just say, “Bah Humbug”?  Well kinda. But at least I didn’t add “decrease the surplus population”to it.  I’ll leave that to God.  But just for the record, there is no way that I should be in charge of the zapper button that obliterates people out of existence on any given day.  God in his infinite wisdom stores up his wrath for another day and keeps me out of the consultative loop.  Be thankful. No, but seriously, be thankful.

Genes are a Bitch

My disdain for Christmas is complicated, so let me explain.  I guess after all I inherited it from my old man.  I used to see the look on his eyes every Christmas and it literally scared the shit out of me, kind of like Clark Griswold finally unhinged in the aftermath of surviving an insane family for the holidays, and an equally negligible Christmas bonus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQXuazYI_YU, or like Neil Page finally unglued at the airport counter https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWRxPDhd3d0 if you get my drift . In fact, you could see his eye veins pulsate as he looked at you, and coupled with the tone of his voice, it was a sight so palpable that you could cut it with a freaking butter knife. In fact, to this day, I swear if that ole boy didn’t have a flask stationed in every room of the house during Christmas, he missed a good damn opportunity!  And I know for sure that whatever smidgeon of joy he experienced couldn’t have lasted more than a millisecond on Christmas Day, seeing the ecstasy in our entitled little bug eyes, saving just a bit more to be sure when he opened his one damn present with everybody’s cheap ass name written on it, that ended up being a frickin tie or some generic cologne that couldn’t get you any action with two out of work hookers and an American Express black card for goodness sakes!  His response was like, “Oh gee, thanks everybody, you really shouldn’t have”!  In fact, I’m quite sure that the 26th couldn’t come soon enough, and I imagine him and Mrs. Claus partying like it was 1999 as they ushered in their new, but only temporal freedom from the sheer agony of it all.  But I digress.

To get deeper into the heart of the matter, I guess it’s summed up quite nicely in my title with the sheer “X-mas” of it all that we have come to know all too well.  In fact, though raised in a home that took fairly seriously the customary reading of the Luke 2 Christmas story, our culture had successfully conditioned us to tolerate the moment in order to get to the real shindig. The bliss of discovering whether or not we got everything we had on our list, concluding that we were more nice than naughty, and breathing a sigh of relief that Santa or Dad, or whoever the Hell it was, somehow graded on the curve.  There was also the token Christmas service, the watching of “A Christmas Carol”,“Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman”, and then a stark reminder from “It’s a Wonderful Life” to get at least somehow close to the sheer meaning of it all not a moment too late for possible bargaining chips down the road at the pearly gates.  But Jesus, you know, “the reason for the season” and all, got somehow lost in the periphery; and by the day after, had come up again a day late and a dollar short of truly gripping us with the ultimate gift that longs to continually give year after year–if we but allow it.  And somehow, I guess you could say I’ve at least somewhat repeated the cycle, though in James Dean like defiance, left to my own contemplative thoughts once the trash bag of endless wrapping paper is nestled where the soon to be memory of fleeting present glory also rests: in the garbage can of grasping for meaning straws, and coming up with the same vanity and emptiness before the hysteric flimflam began.  And as much as I long to extract significance from this blessed day amidst the rigmarole of what we’ve made it, I often find myself most of the time waiting for the again depressing climax of December 26th as well, with the temptation to then light up a smoke and perhaps even bathe in the ambiance.

Let’s Commiserate

Well, perhaps you’re like me this Christmas, and you’re one who has to survive it rather than experience the magic and thoughtful exuberance of it all.  A magic like the star that guided wise Magi a couple of millennia ago to gaze upon a face and a meaning that’s only response to it was to give every bit of gold, frankincense and myrrh they could lay down at His feet of soon to be glorious good news. And a child born with the power to save mankind from both his perpetual capacity for sin, and the slavery-like oblivion to repetitively put all his eggs in a basket of smoke and mirrors, continually hoping for left over manna instead of the daily bread of contentment proceeding out of that precious mouth of God that man surely should not live without. And likewise, for a gift that is wrapped in love and peace, forgiveness, and good will toward man.  Something to which we many times have left time and time again wrapped under that oft forgotten tree.  But in the meantime, it’s beginning to look at lot like Christmas.

 

Selah

 

 

 

 

Vanity, It’s Definitely My Favorite Sin

The Devil’s Advocate

In 1997, I was quite captivated by a movie starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves entitled “The Devil’s Advocate”.  I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Pastoral Ministries and Bible, preparing for my entrance into a Master’s program, eagerly ready to embark on a call into “the ministry”.   The movie struck an analytical chord in me, first of all because Al Pacino is one of my favorite actors, but secondly, because the movie seemed to get the aspect of “demonology” visually depicted that was most accurate for a Hollywood movie, and painted a grim picture of just how far any one of us particular “Humpty Dumpty’s” can fall prey to his many times unsuspecting devices.

Ironically, the lead attorney who has never lost a case (Keanu Reeves) plays Kevin Lomax, and Al Pacino plays a character by the name of John Milton (ironically the name of the author of Paradise Lost), but who is none other than Mephistopheles himself.  In the introduction to the movie, we witness Kevin Lomax representing someone accused of child molestation, that as the case unfurls, he actually finds out is guilty as Hell.  Nonetheless, as he cross examines the prosecution, he finds more holes in their story than a high-powered lawyer has a right to, and as a result, the jury rests with a “not guilty” verdict.

Fast forward through the movie’s twists and turns, after Lomax now has a carrot of an even higher-profile job being dangled before him from John Milton, and a credulous ride on the dark side that he could have never imagined, the movie then concludes with Kevin realizing the error of his ways through his chaotic dance with the devil, and we then enter the same introductory scene.  Only this time, the now enlightened and virtuous Kevin now refuses to represent the guilty pedophile.  Our hearts soar as we see this spiritual epiphany of Kevin revealed to us, while the reporter Larry grabs Kevin and his wife (played by Charlize Theron), and essentially lets them know that Kevin is now the hero, and he wants to do a story that will be the ultimate “do-gooder” story sure to grant him a new kind of fame. As Reeves and Theron smile at each other with a sense of utter righteous nirvana, the scene then fades as Larry now turns into Al Pacino’s character (Satan) who then says with his shit-eating grin, “Vanity, It’s Definitely My Favorite Sin”.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3M68wcB6L0s

Vanity’s Slippery Slope

The thought occurred to me as I considered my own entrance into a “do-gooder” profession at the time, just how imperceptibly oftentimes Satan can take the good that we would do, and can “ipso-facto” turn it into a narcissistic plunge without us even recognizing it, until it’s web around us is fully grown and we’ve been consumed by it ever so completely.  It’s a very slippery slope that catches us incognito, and in its aftermath, it devastates not only our own lives, but also the star-gazed lives of those who falsely project their spiritual hopes and dreams upon us, looking to us for their proxy of Christ himself.  Of course, the apostle Paul hammered this age-old problem out for us quite clearly  in the book of I Corinthians, correcting their “celebrity preacher” propensity, when he reminds them that it is neither He, nor Apollos, nor Peter that is anything at all, but that it is only Christ that we all should follow.  He further reminds them in Chapter 13 quite shockingly, that we could even become so good in our own eyes, perhaps even giving our bodies to be burned alive for those who follow us, and yet; if we have not love (the true motive of righteous living), we are in his words…nothing.  Or perhaps a close second dilemma, is that of being nothing more than a sounding gong or a clanging symbol that everyone can hear, yet no one can seem to turn off as we genuflect at the sound of our own voice and virtuous tabloid.

When I was a rebel pastor, I was constantly confronted both with my own potential for good, and equally my ability to disappoint, continually humbled as I would step into the pulpit to even attempt to say “Thus Saith the Lord” to anyone.  As a result, I tended to preach on topics that I myself was working through in my own life, before I could even begin to hold out anything sacred and substantive for others to take a hold of and embrace for themselves.  I saw the potential for vanity in me, as I looked out Sunday after Sunday at vanity’s equivalent congregational reflection staring back at me; equally caught up in having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.  The kind of power quite frankly, that is only made perfect in the weakness we experience both from our arduous journey into our quest for righteousness as nothing more than sinners saved by grace, and from the malevolent force called “this fallen world” that is persistently antagonistic to such a paradoxical caveat of true winning.  Yet it is only here that Christ can form the crucible of love that has even the remote possibility of making us into someone who would even dare to say, “follow me, as I follow Christ”.

All is Vanity Saith The Preacher

I realize I have written about this in some form or fashion a lot lately.  I guess you could say it is my soul’s quiet preoccupation as I reflect on all the world’s fool’s gold that abounds, and in constant amazement that no matter how much I know it, it is still so easy to fall into its predatory grasp time and time again, as vanity indeed thrives everywhere in our culture today.  I see it in the eyes of “road rage” as I sneak out into an intersection with plenty of room to cross, as those I encounter speed up, almost as if to taunt me with the idea of smashing into my car because I dared to cross while they were on their way to God knows where. I see it in bowed up chests and laser like stares, as men and women walk confidently and defiantly with observable chips on their block, daring anyone to look at them in the incorrect way as they live out their daily survival of only the fittest.  I see it in the media outlets and political pundits who put forth their “two cents” on every matter under the sun, arrogantly claiming their lack of “deplorable” status, distancing themselves from the obvious “dregs of society” that suck up all the space that they occupy.  I see it also in Hollywood’s constant big-headed projection of itself as the standard of which we are all to aspire and work for.  And I now see it equally in the church, where ministers dangle very closely on the precipice of being far too caught up in their own reflection, while the casualties of their unsuspecting tutelage continue to wonder who will yet take up the basin and the towel, rather than succumb to a form of self-consecrated, white-washed simony that rivals the marketplace of which we are all apart.

I believe Tom Conlon tells us the truth of the matter in his song Ohio, where he writes these words that I have reflected upon a good bit lately.  He says, “Everyone wanna be famous, no one wanna be righteous”.  And, well, I suppose both he and the devil are both right after all, because vanity; well it really is our (my) favorite sin.

Selah

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=43&v=3775n_mb05A

 

 

Does Reciprocity of “Give-and-Take” Exist In Relationships Anymore?

A Question

I’ve reflected on this particular topic for some time now, asking the discernable “sixty-four dollar” question as it relates to others as I “people watch” all around me, while also rather sheepishly asking it of “yours truly”.  For after all, what is good for the goose as they say, must also be good for the gander.  And as far as it goes, up until now, I felt that I had at least somewhat passed that particular test.

For instance, when someone called me and needed something, if I had what they needed, nothing was spared. If I was called upon to give advice; or to simply listen; to be a shoulder they could cry upon; or they needed a place to stay; or if called upon to look at something that was most important to them, I would dare not relinquish it.  I did so simply because after 27 years of devouring the scriptures with both my mind, heart, and equal brokenness, I cannot walk away from the mirror of those well-rehearsed lines and not recognize that I indeed “am” my brother and sister’s keeper.  I “am” somehow to be the hands and feet of Jesus in some form or fashion, and both my schedule and my prayer closet should flex for allowance of that oftentimes inconvenient, yet gospel-like intrusion into my life.  And, should we need a reciprocated mutuality of this same comfort upon ourselves, should we not also be able to count upon it?

Narcissism and Facebook

Well before we hold our breath in the endless waiting line, perhaps our answer comes to us front and center in the current climate of chronic narcissism and now habitual attention deficit disorder?  For me, it’s plain and simple, or black and white, even as I often fall short; and yet, it seems for most of us now, this obvious nudge to go beyond our now routine superficiality of paper-thin convictions and relationships has become an inconvenient truth threatening to hold us back from “living our lives”.  I believe Facebook, of which I am a reluctant patron of, is part and parcel of the problem.  We scroll through old friends and mostly mere acquaintances unremittingly, periodically adding them to our “friends” list, perhaps not realizing it’s “friends with(out) the benefits.  We presume our “likes” and “tags” show in fact that we are comrades of sorts, even as we scurry on to our next diversion keeping us at a comfortable “stone’s throw” from real communication, interaction and love bestowed on our “so-called” virtual friends, many of whom should fall into a quite different category of “brothers and sisters” if their posts claiming their love for Jesus is descriptive of who they actually are.  But Facebook need not bear the full culpability, as I fear this casual “hit it and quit it” relational interaction seeps from these flickering pixels seamlessly into the flesh and blood world of our daily grind equally I’m afraid.

Privatization

For instance, our homes have long become our private castles, hiding us away from the pain and suffering that exists just outside our door, all the while scampering out occasionally for food, drink and never-ending entertainment; and then rushing back into our doors safe and secure again inside the womb of indifference, as we then settle down in front of a speaking idol that beams out constant nonsensical garbage certain to fuel our desensitization all the more.  And as we interact with our peers in our work-day week, once we leave on Friday, the unwritten rule, outside of an occasional joining up for a frolicsome rendezvous, is that the weekends have become our sacred parish of “us four and no more”, as our self-made stained glass windows expediently keep out those that come with any hint of a bag full of predicaments and a worn out welcome to boot.

What About the Church?

And as I ponder this even more, I wonder as it relates to the faith I claim to possess, and that the church proposes to offer assistance with, how we are doing in this same arena?  Are we, as supposed guides of the blind, pushing back on this privatization of our lives that keeps our shoe leather of caring comfortably at bay?   Oh, we use words like “family”, surely understanding that Jesus alluded many times to the fact that His family would be even greater and ever more loving than our own nuclear family.  Yet oftentimes, when we are no longer the shiny new visitor, or the over-committed and tithing acolyte, we find that perhaps we are still “a day late and a dollar short” of feeling safe and loved by a collective family, who at a moment’s notice will go out of their way to leave their light on for you.

And as I muse about this 800-pound conundrum in the church’s and my own room, the question I have recently asked myself is this: Have we now come to a time that our Christianity means mostly nothing outside of the mere trappings of church life full of weekly “sermonettes by preacherettes to us as christianettes”? Or to put it more pithily, I wonder if we truly inculcate the values of Christianity into our daily lives and relationships where the rubber actually meets the road, and beyond the veneer of regular church attendance, an occasional check in a large golden bowl, and constant swaying to the everlasting catalogue of predictable muzak?

The Rub

For sure, the lack of real mutual “give and take” of real community lacking in our daily lives and in the place we call church is often spoken of, and no shortage of ink has been spilled in the description of it, and perhaps I won’t offer anything new here today.  Although it does seem that the lack thereof is slowly killing us in ways we have yet to give attentive runway to in our own topsy-turvy lives; and at least for me, the devil is for sure found in our individual details. Yet I just can’t help but quietly wonder if we’ve not been so busy “going” to church, that somehow; just maybe, we forgot that we are actually supposed to “be” one.

Selah